House endorses bill on archipelagic sea lanes

To prevent arbitrary international passage in the Philippine archipelago, the House of Representatives on Monday endorsed for Senate approval the bill establishing the archipelagic sea lanes (ASLs) in Philippine archipelagic waters.

This, after lawmakers voting 186 affirmative and 0 negative, passed on third and final reading House Bill 10814 or the “Philippine Archipelagic Sea Lanes Act.”

The bill provides the coordinates designating the sea lanes and air routes suitable for the continuous and expeditious passage of foreign ships and aircraft through or over its archipelagic waters and the adjacent territorial sea.

It also prescribes the rights and obligations of foreign ships and aircraft exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage through the established Philippine ASLs, and mandates the President to issue rules and regulations on the management and security of the ASLs and adjacent  archipelagic waters.

The bill also penalizes noncompliance with the provisions of this proposed act, and with existing fisheries, environmental, customs, fiscal, immigration, sanitary and other pertinent laws.

The measure said the person or legal body responsible for the operation or cargo of foreign commercial ships or aircraft or foreign government ships or aircraft operated for commercial purposes shall be liable for any loss or damage suffered by the Philippines or any third party as a result of noncompliance with any of the provisions of this Act while exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage.

It added the flag State shall bear international responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the Philippines or any third party as a result of noncompliance with any of the provisions of this proposed act by a foreign warship or aircraft or other government ship operated for noncommercial purposes, while exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage.

Under the bill, noncompliance by foreign civilian ships and aircraft with the pertinent provisions of this proposal — which constitutes a violation of existing fisheries, environmental, customs, fiscal, immigration, sanitary and other pertinent laws — shall be punishable by the provisions of the measure.

If the noncompliance does not constitute a violation of existing laws, the bill said the same shall be punishable by imprisonment of six months and one day to two years and two months, or a fine of $1.2 million or its equivalent in Philippine currency, or both, such imprisonment and fine at the discretion of the court.

The penalty shall be imposed upon the master of the vessel or the captain of the aircraft or the owner or operator of the vessel or aircraft, as the case may be. If the owner or operator is a corporation, partnership or any other juridical person, the penalty shall be imposed upon the president or head.

The provisions of this proposal shall not diminish the rights of foreign ships to exercise the right of innocent passage in the archipelagic waters outside of the archipelagic sea lanes.

The bill said all rules and regulations relating to the management and security of the archipelagic sea lanes and adjacent archipelagic waters shall be promulgated by the President, with help from the relevant national agencies, through an appropriate executive issuance.

Such issuances shall include the protective measures stipulated in international agreements, conventions, and regulations such as those established by the International Maritime Organization, as well as national measures enacted in accordance with existing laws and regulations, the measure added.

The bill said foreign ships and aircraft may exercise the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in order to navigate or fly from one part of the high seas or an EEZ to another part of the high seas or an EEZ through or over the Philippine archipelagic waters and its adjacent territorial sea.

It said such sea lanes shall be defined by a series of continuous axis lines from the entry points of passage routes to the exit points

The exercise of the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage shall be through a sea lane, or through the air route above a sea lane, which has been determined and designated to be an archipelagic sea lane that may be used for exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage  under this proposal. 

Image credits: PCG